Op-Ed: Ken Kendrick Is On the Juice

"I'll be blunt with you and say there have been certainly whispers about Luis Gonzalez" using steroids in 2001. No kidding? Really? You don't say? Shocker. The problem here is that when Managing Partner Ken Kendrick started using 'Luis Gonzalez' and 'steroids' in the same sentence, he put something in his own body that doesn't belong there. Open mouth, insert foot...to the ankle.

There are frustrating and embarrassing things said by players, coaches, management, union reps, MLB officials, umpires, broadcasters, bat boys, even those 'Golden Glovers' down the right and left field lines at Chase Field all the time.  Most of the time these things are blown off, they're swept under the rug, and forgotten in a matter of days.  Used to be that way about steroids too.  Then Mark McGwire went all weepy, Rafael Palmeiro got indignant right before testing positive, and Bonds went all 'giant head' and passed The Babe.  Now everything even remotely concerning 'roids, HGH, 'greenies' and whatever else these guys may or may not be taking is serious, and since MLB hasn't actually cleaned up its act yet (positive steps?  Yes.  Positively no performance enhancers?  No), it's also National news.

Of course there are whispers.  Gonzo's 'big' year was almost as drastic an increase, and subsequent decrease, as Barry Bonds' big year.  The questions were going to arise, and they did.  In bars, in the stands, on street corners and message boards.  They were almost certainly talked about in the front office, behind closed doors, but what Ken Kendrick did yesterday was talk about it openly, on the record, to a reporter. 

And you thought your manager was a jackass.

Kendrick has, by all accounts, done a pretty decent job of helping to put together a club that has spent a good portion of this season atop the NL West.  What he has done best is leave the baseball to the baseball people.  He has let GM Josh Byrnes make the right moves, given Vice President of Scouting Mike Rizzo the carte blanche to sign big time draft picks, let Bob Melvin run the show on the field.  He has smiled and stood next to free agent signees, and shaken hands with top picks.  He has been a strong face in the wake of the Jason Grimsley accusations, taking a strong stand and stating that the Diamondbacks would not pay Grimsley the remainder of his contract (FYI:  that's a great PR move, but rest assured the Union will get Grimsley his cash).

I can be honest when I say I thought it would be the 'other' managing partner, Jeff Moorad, who would have been the problem child.  As a former agent, I thought it would be Moorad horning in on the limelight, spouting off to generate headlines.  I was wrong, but Kendrick was more wrong.

Craig Counsell said it best, "If you're an owner, Luis Gonzalez is your dream superstar. The way he plays, the way he handles himself in the community, treats other people. To associate his name with such a sensitive topic is very careless."

It doesn't matter if Kendrick was the one with the needle staring at Gonzo's backside.  This is the face of your organization, and has been for most of the last decade.  This is Mr. Diamondback the way Ernie Banks is Mr. Cub.  Everybody knew the two best players on the '01 World Champions were, Randy and Curt, but it was Gonzo who was on the cover.  Maybe that had something to do with the fact that Randy and Curt were essentially rentals, that everybody knew they would move on and snatch the big money when the had the chance (the same way they took the big money when Arizona gave them the chance), maybe it had to do with the fact that Gonzo is better looking, maybe it had to do with the fact that in a state where the Hispanic population is huge, a 'Z' at the end of the name didn't hurt, but for whatever reason, Luis Gonzalez is the face of the Diamondbacks, and likely will be for a long time to come, whether he is playing or not.

If you want to make an example of your best employee, there are ways to do it.  Bringing him to the middle of the office and loudly declaring that you have 'suspicions' about sexual harassment is not one of those ways, and don't fool yourself, right now in baseball allegations of steroid use are far more damaging that allegations of sexual harassment. 

Kendrick should shut his mouth and go back to writing checks.  It's not like he's shown the greatest baseball acumen anyway.  This is the guy who signed Russ Ortiz to that bloated $34 million deal.  He's not a baseball man, he's a business man, and because of that, on a second look, this starts to look like a business move.

Gonzo has an option next year that would pay him $10 million.  He's been pretty open about the concept that he doesn't feel like he's done playing good baseball (50 game homerless streak or no).  The Diamondbacks have a gaggle of talented corner outfielders in the minors.  Guys who might very well be more productive, at a fraction of the cost, of Luis Gonzalez.  The best case scenario is that Gonzo gets hot again, helps the D'Backs to the playoffs, makes some big plays, gets some clutch hits, and then instead of coming back next year, takes a cushy spot in the front office of the D'Backs and turns left field over to Carlos Quentin, Scott Hairston, Chris Young or one of the other talented outfielders in the minors.  Give him a title, 'Special Assistant to the General Manager" or something, and pay him a chunk of money to be on camera, reminding D'Backs fans of that bloop single in Game Seven about every 10 days. 

That's unlikely to happen now.  If I were Gonzo, I would have been even more forceful in my denial.  Whether I did it or not, I'd be screaming from the rooftops.  Clearly he's not on the juice anymore (if he ever was), and thus he's not going to pull a Palmeiro and test positive after the denial, so I'd be calling my lawyer and asking questions like, "How much can I win in a slander trial against Kendrick?"

And I'd go out to the field everyday with a renewed sense of purpose and focus.  I'd go have the best second half my body could possibly let me have, and I'd take that $10 million dollar option and tell the front office to stick it where they say I stuck that needle...

...but that's not Gonzo.  If he did juice up back in '01, it was a mistake, and one he clearly realized.  He stopped, and he continued to be among the greatest community leaders in the history of sport.  He donates, both his time and his money, he funds anti-drug programs.  I was lucky enough to be included in one of Luis' 'Kids Going Gonzo for School' functions a couple of years ago.  My wife was a teacher in a school that was participating. 

I watched kids, even kids who weren't big baseball fans, learn about making the right decisions in life the way Gonzo goes at hanging sliders.  I watched kids who had grown up in some of the toughest neighborhoods in Phoenix learning how to make the right decisions.  About drugs, alcohol, about life.  They learn that just because you make a mistake, you don't have to continue to make it.  A well spoken, good looking, incredibly talented Latino who had made something of himself on and off the diamond.  Only a select few actually got to go down on the field and shake his hand, but in the top of the fifth inning of that night's game, as Gonzo ran out to left, he pointed at the various sections where those kids were.  Just a point, a simple gesture, but when he did it, these kids exploded.  They were rewarded for working hard and doing something that would help them in the future.

Ken Kendrick pointed as well, and I hope D'Back fans explode just as loudly as those kids.  I hope for the D'Backs sake that the talent pool in MLB wasn't paying too much attention, though we know they were.  If Albert Pujols was a free agent, and were looking at various clubs, could he, with allegations and rumors already circulating, come to Arizona now?  Would he feel safe that Kendrick wouldn't spout off one day about how he had some 'suspicions'?  What about Alex Rodriguez?  Manny Ramirez?  Jim Thome?  How about Roger Clemens?  Would any of them feel at ease with Kendrick as their boss? 

Are steroids okay?  Of course not.  IF Gonzo was on the juice, was it okay because it's him?  Absolutely not.  Was Ken Kendrick wrong on every level to bring it up the way he did.  Yes.  If Jason Grimsley was a distraction, it was an itch you couldn't quite reach.  What Ken Kendrick did was open a sore on the bottom of your foot.  No, it probably won't kill you, but it won't go away any time soon, and you'll never forget about it.

 

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